Depression & Anxiety – Social Media Contributing to Problem
The rates of anxiety and depression in teenagers and young adults are the highest they have ever been. Many social scientists postulate that the rise of these mental health issues is due to 24/7 news cycles, the blue lights that are constantly emitting from our electronics and the false and disappointing sense of pseudo-connection that we feel as we rely more and more on social media platforms to fulfill our human need for relationship.
Gen Z Claim Authentic Online Interactions
As the parent to two teenagers and a mental health expert who works with adolescents and young adults, I constantly hear moms and dads and teachers and reporters talking about how terrible social media and the internet is for our emerging adults. But there are two sides to this story. The truth is, most teenagers today, members of what social scientists call Generation Z, say that social media and the ever-present internet have actually helped them feel more connected to other people, not less. Further, they will tell you that they do not feel “superficially” connected via the internet – they are actually participating in healthy relationships and finding healthy support systems via the world wide web.
Youths May Navigate the Internet with More Savvy than Adults
Our adult understanding of their interactions with social media, and the internet, as negative, shaming and dangerous may not actually be true. It’s important not to demonize social media or over-simplify the issue. For adolescents and young adults, the internet and social media platforms can be as much of a comfort as they are a hindrance. Many teens and young adults have learned to navigate the Web Waters – they know to ignore the salacious comments and they know how to find support online. The star of the critically acclaimed move 8th grade recently wrote this article about her experience with anxiety. She outlines how the anonymity of the internet actually helped her feel more comfortable with herself and her emotions.
Mental Health – Complex Relationship of Online & Offline Factors
So while we’re trying to solve the mental health crisis we’re facing in the United States, and possibly the world, we need to make sure we’re looking at the problem as the complex behemoth it is. Yes, the lack of authentic connection may be to blame for the rise in mental health issues. But the lack of authentic connection may be bigger than the rise of social media and the constant barrage of electronic stimulus. Maybe the lack of authentic connection is happening because parents are stressed and over-worked and have no time to foster their own authentic connections with their kids. Maybe it’s because we have created a consumer-focused society that simply doesn’t value authentic connection at all. People are told by society almost constantly that their goals should include having more money, fancier clothes, and knowing the right people. Maybe these issues have more to do with our collective anxiety and depression than YouTube and Snapchat.
Quid Pro Quo Solution to Promote Authentic Personal Engagement
I see parents all the time who see the trends of loneliness in their children, and feel lonely themselves, and their answer is to severely restrict phone time or not allow their kids to join social media at all. I’m not sure how successful those strategies are. It may be more effective to tell your kids that they can engage with their electronics regularly, but in order to retain that privilege, they have to make time once a week to volunteer somewhere with you, they have to eat 3 meals with the family per week without electronics, and they have to share their social media experience with you once or twice a month so that you are aware of how they are interacting with internet world.
Balance of Social Media & Live Personal Relations is Important
Mental Health has always been defined by balance, and this truth remains even with the invention of Social Media and the change in our societal social discourse. It’s ok to let your kids use the internet and it’s ok that they make connections on the internet, as long as they still have connections with you, their teachers and some live friends.